Decriminalization of Marijuana in Mexico Leads to Greater Problems

April 26, 2016

In 2009, Mexico decriminalized the possession of small quantities of several drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and LSD in an attempt to combat police corruption and to put a greater focus on the more dangerous cartels and traffickers rather than the small-time users. The law standardized certain quantities of these drugs for “personal use,” which, if a person is caught with an amount less than this standard, will not call for detention of that person, but rather encouragement to seek treatment until their third violation. After the third time, treatment is mandatory.1 Unfortunately, the decriminalization has opened the door, or rather the border, to greater problems.

On January 1, 2014, Colorado became the first state in the United States to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, and, like the sale of alcohol, it is restricted to residents who are 21 year of age or older. There are separate dispensaries; those for medical marijuana and others for recreation. The recreational dispensaries limit their sale to one ounce per customer, which, according to CNN, can cost upward of $USD 200. Coloradans are also permitted to cultivate their own plants, though they must be “enclosed and locked.”2 Colorado is not the only state, however, to legalize or decriminalize the possession and sale of marijuana. Eighteen other states and the District of Columbia have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana, or are in the process of doing so.3 However, the legalization of marijuana in the United States is one of the sources for a new branch in the underground drug trade in Mexico that has recently emerged.

In Mexico, homegrown marijuana can be bought for about 200 pesos, or around $USD 12, per ounce. However, in higher-class areas, the drug can be sold for close to 3,000 pesos, which is just over $USD 182, for the same amount. In these richer areas, the marijuana is more potent than the domestic variety, and the customers are willing to pay extra for the “better stuff.” This “better stuff,” though, is not native to Mexico, but rather, as some law enforcement agencies are speculating, that this weed is coming from the United States; more specifically the states in which the sale and possession of marijuana has been legalized. This new drug trade has been described as “counterflow,” which is the movement of drugs from the north, the United States, to the south, Mexico. The suspicions are not, however, baseless. In July, two United States citizens were stopped at the Ciudad Juárez checkpoint and were found with “more than five kilos of marijuana in the luggage rack of a Honda Accord coming in from Texas.” The two citizens revealed, after questioning, that the large quantities were coming from Denver, Colorado, and were making their way to Mexico City.4 

This particular counterflow into Mexico has created a niche market. Since the cost per ounce is so much higher for the imported marijuana, the product can only be sold in high income areas. According to the director of the West Texas region of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, “This marijuana is not for everybody. It’s a status thing. It’s for rich kids.”4 

While the importation of the North American marijuana may not be a huge issue now, it could easily become one, as there have, reportedly, been discovered clones of the cannabis that “yield product equal in quality and potency as [those] grown legally in greenhouses in several U.S. states. If the product is domesticated, the Mexican dealers will have to lower prices to combat deflation, as their access to these particular stems of marijuana will be facilitated exponentially.4 


1. Stevenson, Mark. “Mexico Decriminalizes Small-Scale Drug Possession.” Huffington Post. 21 Sep. 2009. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

2. Martinez, Michael. “10 things to know about the nation’s first recreational marijuana shops in Colorado.” CNN. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

3. “States That Have Decriminalized.” NORML. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.

4. Chaparro, Luis. “Well-off stoners are ushering in a new marijuana market in Mexico.” El Daily. 6 Oct. 2015. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

About Author(s)

Asa Equels's picture
Asa Equels
Asa Equels is a junior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh studying Hispanic Languages and Literatures, as well as pursuing a Certificate in Latin American Studies. He is a member of the university's Cross Country and Track and Field teams. After graduation, Asa plans on continuing his education in graduate school, and hopes to become a teacher/professor and cross country/track coach.